VCJD could soon be diagnosed using a new blood test, British scientists have revealed.
The development of the first reliable blood test for the human version of mad cow disease could transform identification and screening of the fatal brain disorder.
The test could also reveal whether patients are carriers and allow scientists to establish for the first time how many Britons are incubating the disease, according to research published in The Lancet medical journal.
The prototype blood test developed by scientists at the Medical Research Council is 100,000 times more sensitive than any studied before.
Until now there has been no firm diagnosis method other than examining the patient’s brain tissue.
Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) is the human equivalent of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which affects cattle. First identified in the 1990s, vCJD was traced to the consumption of beef products containing contaminated meat.
The illness progressively causes the brain to become riddled with holes, leading to mental problems, loss of body function, and eventual death.
There is no cure for the condition, which has a long incubation period. People can harbour the infectious proteins - called prions - believed to spread the disease for years while experiencing no symptoms. During this time, they can potentially transmit the disease by donating blood or undergoing surgery.
- Edgeworth JA, et al. Detection of prion infection in variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: a blood-based assay. The Lancet; 2011: Online first.
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